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Asian Markets Fall On Global Growth Worries

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Asian stock markets, led by China, are notably lower on Friday following the weak cues overnight from the U.S. and European markets amid fresh worries about a global economic slowdown after the European Central Bank slashed its economic growth forecast for the eurozone.

Investors are also cautious as they look ahead to the release of the U.S. Labor Department's closely-watched monthly jobs report for February later in the day.

The Australian market is declining. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index is losing 41.40 points or 0.66 percent to 6,222.50 after touching a low of 6,222.20 earlier. The broader All Ordinaries Index is down 38.50 points or 0.61 percent to 6,305.70. Australian markets eked out modest gains on Thursday.

The major miners are extending losses from the previous session. Rio Tinto is losing almost 2 percent, BHP is declining more than 1 percent and Fortescue Metals is down 0.3 percent.

In the banking space, National Australia Bank, Westpac, Commonwealth Bank and ANZ Banking are lower in a range of 1.2 percent to 2.0 percent.

Oil stocks are also weak despite higher crude oil prices. Oil Search is declining more than 1 percent, Woodside Petroleum is lower by almost 1 percent and Santos is down 0.4 percent.

Bucking the trend, gold miners are advancing, even as gold prices edged lower overnight. Newcrest Mining and Evolution Mining are rising more than 1 percent each.

Cochlear said it welcomes the UK's move to expand the criteria for hearing implant eligibility, noting that the change is expected to more than double the number of people who can access a cochlear implant. Shares of the hearing implant maker are adding 0.2 percent.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar is lower against the U.S dollar on Friday. The local currency was quoted at $0.7022, down from $0.7046 on Thursday.

The Japanese market is extending its losing streak to a fourth session. Investors also digested a raft of local economic data, including Japan's GDP numbers for the fourth quarter.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 Index is losing 327.16 points or 1.52 percent to 21,128.85, after touching a low of 21,126.59 earlier. Japanese shares fell to a one-week low on Thursday.

The major exporters are weak on a stronger safe-haven yen. Mitsubishi Electric is losing almost 2 percent, while Sony and Canon are declining more than 1 percent each, and Panasonic is edging down 0.1 percent.

In the tech sector, Advantest is losing almost 4 percent and Tokyo Electron is lower by more than 2 percent. Among the major automakers, Honda is lower by almost 1 percent and Toyota is down 0.2 percent.

In the banking space, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial is losing more than 3 percent and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial is down more than 2 percent.

In the oil space, Inpex is lower by more than 1 percent and Japan Petroleum is losing almost 3 percent even as crude oil prices rose modestly overnight.

Among the few major gainers, Sekisui House is rising more than 3 percent. On the flip side, Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha is falling more than 10 percent, while Yaskawa Electric and Toho Zinc are losing almost 5 percent each.

On the economic front, the Cabinet Office said in Friday's final reading that Japan's gross domestic product gained a seasonally adjusted 0.5 percent on quarter in the fourth quarter of 2018. That beat expectations for an increase of 0.4 percent following the 0.3 percent gain in the previous reading.

The Ministry of Finance said that Japan posted a current account surplus of 600.4 billion yen in January, up 1.4 percent from a year earlier. That beat expectations for a surplus of 161.0 billion yen and was up from 452.8 billion yen in December.

Japan's trade balance showed a deficit of 964.8 billion yen, which also topped forecasts for a deficit of 1,152.4 billion yen following the 216.2 billion yen surplus in the previous month. Exports were down 6.7 percent on year in January, while imports eased an annual 1.7 percent.

The Bank of Japan said that overall bank lending in Japan was up 2.3 percent on year in February, coming in at 533.7 trillion yen. That was down from 2.4 percent in January. Excluding trusts, bank lending was up 2.4 percent on year to 464.4 trillion yen - unchanged from the previous month.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar is trading in the mid 111 yen-range on Friday.

Elsewhere in Asia, Shanghai is losing 2 percent, while Hong Kong is declining more than 1 percent and South Korea is down almost 1 percent. Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Taiwan are also lower. Bucking the trend, New Zealand is edging higher.

On Wall Street, stocks extended losses on Thursday from the previous session on global economic growth concerns after the European Central Bank slashed its economic growth forecast for the eurozone economy, citing lingering uncertainties that are mainly external. The ECB also said it now expects eurozone interest rates to remain at the current level at least till the end of this year.

The Dow slid 200.23 points or 0.8 percent to 25,473.23, the Nasdaq tumbled 84.46 points or 1.1 percent to 7,421.46 and the S&P 500 fell 22.52 points or 0.8 percent to 2,748.93.

The major European markets also moved to the downside on Thursday. While the German DAX Index slid by 0.6 percent, the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index and the French CAC 40 Index fell by 0.5 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively.

Crude oil futures ended higher Thursday, driven by supply cuts from OPEC and on U.S. sanctions against Venezuela and Iran. WTI crude for April added $0.44 or 0.8 percent to close at $56.66 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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